Program Counsellor at the Head of the Class

Helping students is the highlight of his day

Jerome Chang

It’s not your ordinary waiting room. The walls are covered with posters explaining the steps to take to solve various problems and answering questions like: “Do I really need Jerome’s signature?” and “Why is Jerome taking so long?” A small table holds puzzles, books and other items to keep you entertained while you wait. As you pick up one of the puzzles and start twisting it in your hands, the problems you arrived with don’t seem quite so urgent. You feel calmer. That’s one of Jerome’s goals.

The Jerome whose name pops up on so many of those posters is Jerome Chang, bachelor of arts and sciences (BAS) program counsellor, who has been selected as this year’s winner of the Excellence in Academic Advising Medallion.

Student Nicole Markwick, who nominated him, wrote in her letter: “Jerome is very knowledgeable, responding confidently and accurately to any question I have ever thrown his way. My university experience would have been far more overwhelming without Jerome’s support.”

Another student, Zoe Lazaris-Brunner wrote: “Over the past four years, it has become common in my family to say ‘ask Jerome!’ every time I have a question regarding courses, program planning, graduate programs, etc…. His constantly positive attitude and overall warm and friendly demeanour draws you to him. He easily makes you feel comfortable. Jerome is an extraordinary advisor.”

Chang says he was surprised when he found out that he won: “I didn’t expect it. It’s nice and especially wonderful to have been nominated by my students.”

Being program counsellor for the arts and sciences program does have its challenges, he acknowledges. Each BAS student he works with has one area of specialization from the arts and social sciences, one from the sciences, as well as the interdisciplinary core courses.

“The program straddles all the colleges across campus, so I need to work with faculty to get to know what’s involved in their courses. That’s something I really enjoy. I also often need to work with the other program counsellors – fortunately, they are great to work with,” says Chang.

Making life easier for his students is what Chang is all about. He includes potential arts and science students in that category, explaining that he frequently works with admissions and recruitment, and makes himself available to prospective students and their families if they have questions about the program.

Making life easier is why his waiting room has posters to guide students towards solutions to their problems as well as entertainment for those times when they really do have to wait. He offers a mix of drop-in times and set appointments each day so that he can be available for emergency situations as well as planning. “Some days only one or two students come by; other days I’ll see as many as 15 students in my afternoon drop-in hours,” he says. In between, he responds to emails and phone calls.

Knowing that busy students can forget important dates (such as when you need to decide to drop that course you’re struggling with), Chang sends out weekly reminder emails. He also creates regular newsletters plus special editions that focus on exams and course selection. The newsletters are packed with information about upcoming events and school schedules, but also include random trivia to keep things fun and interesting, such as:

“Sloths are very still for most of the day, but that’s more about self-defense than laziness. The sloth mission statement can be summed up as, essentially, ‘Avoid being eaten by eagles.’ Seriously, it’s a problem.” (You can read past newsletters at http://www.uoguelph.ca/bas/news-events.html#basnewsletter.)

Chang also uses the newsletters and other media to highlight activities planned by the Bachelor of Arts and Science Students’ Association. “I meet with them to discuss their plans so I can get their information out there. I also work with them to improve the BAS program by getting feedback from students,” he says.

When Chang attended the University of Guelph, the BAS program didn’t exist. He enrolled in the first-year Akademia program, which was the precursor of the current BAS degree. Chang eventually earned a BA in music and drama, and family and social relations. He worked as a residence advisor and after graduation found a position at Carlton University in residence life. He later worked in Toronto before returning to Guelph to work as the residence program co-ordinator.

In 2007, he was hired as program counsellor. “My first set of students just graduated last year,” he says. He graduated himself last June from the University’s MA (Leadership) program.

Outside of work, Chang sings in several choirs, including the St. John’s Elora Choir and the Toronto Classical Singers. As a member of the Guelph Chamber Singers, he’ll be traveling to Germany to compete this summer.

And then he’ll be glad to get back to work: “I originally didn’t think I’d be in this position for very long, but I really do love my job. The biggest thing for me is connecting with the students, helping them navigate through the rules and policies, and university life in general.”

Don’t think the students don’t notice that. “Jerome Chang is a huge asset to the Bachelor of Arts and Science Program,” wrote student Deanna Brockmann in her letter supporting Chang’s nomination. “He…encouraged me to pursue my dreams, whether that be academically, personally or extra-curricular. I consider him an advisor, mentor, resource and friend.”